Thursday, July 31, 2014

Are You Part of the Secret Society?

"Why do we have to read this?" 

I get asked this question several times a year, and each time, I have to convince my students that a certain work of literature is good for them. These young adults live in such a fast-paced world, one in which they just simply double-click to get an answer. They write in text-speak and worry too much about their final grade on a test and not whether they actually learned the material. I’m afraid that many students today have become flat-liners, those surface thinkers who don’t want to put forth effort to think about why something is the way it is.

In two weeks, I’ll begin my last year of teaching, and once more I'll attempt to coerce my students into believing that the study of literature is like a secret society, one to which only the educated, deep-thinkers belong.

What’s so great about studying literature?

Cultural Value – Through lit, we can study the history of our culture to see why we are the way we are today.
Expanding Horizons – Take a trip without ever leaving your room!
Building Vocabulary – I know a book is well written when I have to use a dictionary!
Teaching Critical Thinking – YES! Literature hits on those higher-order thinking skills we educators are pushed to use.
Improving Writing Skills – This should be apparent: you have great writing models if you use good authors as your style guide.

In today's popular culture, various forms of media refer to different works of literature. Knowing and understanding these references mean that  you "get it." You are part of that well-learned, secret society I mentioned earlier.

One way I entice my students to read a certain work is telling them that when they hear it mentioned on Jeopardy, they will know the answer. Each year, I have at least one student share with the class that on Jeopardy the day before, the answer was something we studied. These observant students feel proud to be part of the club.

I observed another reference to literature in popular culture last week during my binge watching of Once Upon a Time. In season 1,episode 12, the evil queen Regina goes to the Storybrooke insane asylum. When she walks down the hall, I noticed a large American Indian mopping the floor. I started laughing out loud. If you are a fan of the Ken Kesey novel  One Flew Over the Cuckooo’s Nest, you know what I mean. You are part of that secret group.

The writers of The Simpsons frequently use literature to enliven the plot. One episode is called “A Streetcar Named Marge” which is from A Streetcar Named Desire. One Halloween episode uses the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem “The Raven” to scare Homer. In this clip from The Simpsons Tree House of Horror, someone charted every allusion to literature, movies and history.



Studying literature is important because if you can understand why characters act a certain way, maybe you can understand why people act a certain way. Analyzing situations in literature can help you analyze situations in life. Reading about how a decision was handled in a book can help you make a better decision if you are faced with that same choice. 

Most importantly, studying literature not only makes you smarter but also keeps you from being a flat-liner.  





Monday, July 28, 2014

Money-Saving Tips I Learned from Experience

In two weeks, I'll begin what I hope is my last year working. I am a proud public-school teacher and have been for 34 years. Because I am a poorly paid public servant, money, or the lack of, has often been a concern in my home. Fortunately, we have never had to go without our needs, just some of our wants. We've always been able to pay our bills, so we've never had the electricity or phone disconnected for nonpayment. We've always had enough food to eat.

Why am I now so concerned with money? Because I realize just how fragile my family's economy is. In one year, my salary will be reduced to 46% of what it is now. I'll be 57 when I retire which a long way from that old-age savior -- social security. Ten years ago, when I finally figured out that I would experience such a shortfall, I started saving, but it's something that I should have been doing from day one on the job. But I  was 22, newly married, with house and car and then daycare payments; retirement seemed like something I'd never reach. How short-sighted was I?

What would I do differently if I could start over with saving money?


1. Never, ever, ever get a credit card. Those cards are the spawns of Satan. They lure you in by making you think you really need something, but when the end of the month comes, you usually have buyer's remorse. If you can't pay cash for something, wait until you can. Saving for something, especially for a long period of time, makes you value an item even more. Presently, I do have a car loan and a house payment, which I know is against the Dave Ramsey philosophy, but those are the only two.



2.  Save something each month in an account you can't touch. Tax shelter annuities are great for doing that. You can lock away money that will be there when you retire.












3.  Follow a budget. I'm not the best budgeter. My husband says that I spend what I make and that's mostly true. If I were 22 again, I'd follow the envelope method, dividing up how much money I'd spend on items throughout the month. I know this method works, but I'm not disciplined enough to get through a month without digging into another envelope. 





4. Be selfish.  I have mentioned in earlier posts that I'm an enabler. I like to help people which is not necessarily a bad trait. What is bad is helping people by giving them money and believing that they will change a behavior because of it. I can't tell you how much money I've given to addicts over the years, thinking that if I buy them this car, this boat, this whatever, they will change their behavior. Finally, I have learned; however, it wasn't until I accumulated a great deal of debt and was left alone to get out of it.  




5.  Be careful with a debit card. When I wrote checks or paid cash for everything, I had a much better grasp on where my money was going and how much I had. I balanced my check book register every morning while drinking my coffee. Now I have gotten lazy by swiping that debit card and having the bank write my checks for me. Instead, you should be aware of how much money you have at all times. To help keep up with your withdrawals and deposits, download free printable registers or use software like Quicken or Mint to keep up with your deposits and withdrawals.



Saving money is vitally important. Start young and respect your money at all times. I wish I had taken this advice when I was 22.



What money-saving advice do you have for those beginning a career and/or for those ending one? 




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Essential Ingredient for Good Health -- Apple Cider Vinegar




 I have always heard about the many uses for vinegar – window cleaning, hard-water stain remover, flavor enhancer – but lately, I’ve been hearing more and more about apple cider vinegar (ACV). Many say that it's a miracle liquid that will stop cancer, help you lose weight and clean your house all at the same time.

First of all, how is apple cider vinegar made? Apple juice is fermented to make hard apple cider and is then fermented a second time into apple cider vinegar. All of the good, nutritional qualities of the apples stay in the end product. Also, the cider has extra acids and enzymes as added bonuses.



ACV has been around a long time. The Babylonians used it as a condiment and preservative. The Greeks and Romans used it for food flavor enhancement and for healing. Hippocrates used it as a health tonic. During the Middle Ages, the Parisians used it as a deodorant, healing tonic and preserver of youth. Columbus had barrels aboard his ships to help prevent scurvy. Japanese Samurai warriors drank it to increase strength and power. American Civil War soldiers used it to disinfect and heal wounds.


In more modern times, in 1958 Dr. D.C. Jarvis published Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor's Guide to Good Health. He explained that ACV was a cure-all that could destroy harmful bacteria in the digestive tract. In the 1970s, ACV became popular again when proponents said that ACV could help with weight loss by speeding metabolism.

Today, researchers tell of its myriad of uses: 

  • Aids in weight loss 
  • Helps make a heart healthy
  • Lowers insulin levels which helps diabetes
  • May help prevent cancer
  • Repels fleas on pets
  • Reduces heartburn
  • Enhances a massage treatment
  • Used as a natural after shave 
  • Stops leg cramps

didn’t find any real side effects of ACV as long as taken in normal amounts. I did find a couple of warnings about ACV in pill form because the pills can irritate the esophagus. 

The ACV I have ever bought has been a clear, golden liquid. After my research, I find that I’ve been buying the wrong kind. The best is the organic, unfiltered ACV. You’ll recognize it because it’s a little cloudy. The reason for this rather hazy appearance is called mother, which are the proteins, enzymes and good bacteria. All of the stuff in ACV that makes it good for you is found in the mother. 
My personal introduction to consuming ACV happened this week. I set out to buy regular, but organic, ACV. My plan was to take a couple of spoonfuls a day and be on the road to better health. I looked at it like a dose of daily medicine. When I got to the grocery store, instead of buying simple ACV, I bought this enticing drink -- Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar All Natural Drink with Cinnamon. 


checked out the ingredients which are, in order of their placement on the label, pure distilled water, organic apple juice, Bragg organic ACV, organic cinnamon, and organic Stevia extract. I figured that since I liked the taste of most of the ingredients, I would be able to get more ACV per day by drinking one of these. Another selling point is that the drink is only 16 calories per serving.


was really intrigued with the label on this drink because there was so much to read on it. The label brags (no pun intended) that the product is Kosher, Certified Organic, and a healthy energy drink. In a marketing move, the word organic is used eight times. There's also a suggestion to Please Recycle and an announcement that the drink is gluten-free. The label contains a Christian fish with 3 John: 2 inside. That verse reads: Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.


The 16-ounce drink costs $2.99 which is rather expensive, but each bottle contains two servings. Instead of paying that much, I decided to make my own at home. 

Here are some helpful recipes I found:


Cheers to better health!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ideas to Spark Your Quest for Health

Today I started thinking about self improvement, specifically my health.

I have never been a tiny person. Actually, I’m rather “thick.” Every summer, I have these grand plans to lose weight, exercise more, thoroughly clean my house, have a fantastic yard, and make everyone in my family happy.  This summer, as in summers of the past, I have failed. But this summer, I haven’t failed miserably. I decided not to beat myself up but instead concentrate on the positive ways I have improved and acknowledge what I did wrong which will make me more aware and hopefully  bring about change.

Below are five healthy things I did today:




1.  I swam for 30 minutes. When I tell people about my method of swimming for exercise, they laugh. You see, I don't swim laps; I swim circles. Also, I swim with a mask and snorkel. It took me a good bit of time to figure out my routine. I have a big pool in my backyard. Last summer, I tried and tried to swim regular laps back and forth like Michael Phelps. It worked fine until I had to take a breath. That's when I took in more water than air. I am not coordinated enough to swim strokes and take a breath at the same time. I picked up the mask/snorkel we had lying around the pool and started swimming. It worked great! I get a great workout without sweating and or impacting my joints. 


2.  I ate high-protein/low carb throughout the day. I usually have 1 egg and 1 egg white scrambled for breakfast. I don't like just egg whites so cutting out the yolk of one egg cuts fat. I also add some Crystal Hot Sauce to spice it up a little. Lunch was a banana and natural peanut butter. Dinner was a tossed salad and chicken breast. 


3.  I laughed. Laughter comes very easy to me, and I can usually find something funny in most situations. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter can

  • Stimulate many organs because of the intake of oxygen-rich air. 
  • Activate and relieve your stress response because it increases your heart rate and blood pressure.  Sounds similar to an orgasm to me.
  • Soothe tension by stimulating circulation and aiding muscle relaxation.
  • Improve your mood. Positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • Relieve pain.  Laughter can cause the body to produce its own natural painkillers and can also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.
  • Increase personal satisfaction. It can make difficult situations easier and can help you connect with people.
  • Improve your immune system. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and make you feel happier.






4.  I completed a project. Finishing up something that you've been working on for a long time is a great boost to your health, especially your healthy attitude. Today, I really cleaned my bathroom. I even scrubbed that yucky place on the floor behind the toilet.


5.  I drank my required eight glasses of water, plus some. I never have trouble getting in my water for the day. This summer, I have really concentrated on getting more water each day. I choose water at meals instead of tea or soda.



To shame myself into doing better, I listed five unhealthy things I did or didn’t do:

1.  I watched too much TV. Three days ago, I watched the first episode of the first season of Once Upon a Time. That lead to a two-day marathon, and I finished all 22 episodes today! Each show is about 50 minutes since commercials are cut on Netflix. So I've watched over 18 hours of TV in the past 72 hours. What the heck? The good news is that I'm done with that show. I overdosed and don't even want to see what happens in seasons 2 and 3.


2.  I stressed about things I have no control over. I have a lot of trouble with this one. Who doesn't? When I realize that I'm worrying incessantly about something, I think about the Serenity Prayer. Is my worrying going to change anything? 


3.  I didn't exercise more. I did my 30 minutes of swimming but didn’t do any strength training. At my age, I should concentrate on strength training to make my bones stronger.



4.  I let the dust stay on the shelves upstairs. Actually, I didn’t even go upstairs. Out of sight, out of mind.

5.  I didn’t chart my food.  I’ve tried to do this over and over, but I am never consistent. I have bought journals specific for this task, made my own on pretty paper to entice me, and tried it in digital format. I know if I could do it for a month, I’d continue forever. Why can’t I?




My goal is to continue with the healthy five and hopefully, get away from the unhealthy ones. I'm definitely trying to get away from living like this:


Monday, July 14, 2014

All Things Mockingbird

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 
-- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee



For my 47th birthday, my now husband/then boyfriend gave me the perfect gift -- a first edition copy of my favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. On that day, I knew he was a special man because he took so much time to find a gift that I would value for many reasons. Yes, his search and purchase of the book are special. Also, it's a first edition so it has monetary value, but mostly, I love this gift because of the timeless story inside the book.

One of the many awesome gifts from my husband, a first-edition copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

What makes this book such a classic? As an Alabamian, I take pride that Nelle Harper Lee is also from my state. She is revered by Alabama school children -- right up there with George Washington Carver (peanut/soybean genius), Booker T. Washington ("Set your buckets down in the South"), Helen Keller (dare I say "Water"
?) and Lionel Richie ("She's a Brick House"). The book is great because of the plot -- wise, white, widower (check out that alliteration) lawyer defends doomed, black man accused of raping low-class white woman. From the beginning, the lawyer knows he will lose, but he continues to fight for what's right and set an example for his children, Jem and Scout.

Jem and Scout from the movie
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee delivers several themes/messages in this novel. Good vs. evil is a big one as is racial injustice; however, to me, the greatest message is about the loss of innocence. Jem and Scout are young and innocent, and it's through Scout's eyes that we see everything unfold. She learns about acceptance of people who are different from her because of their race or mental illness. As her father Atticus teaches her, she can’t “understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

From the movie To Kill a Mockingbird -- Atticus in a discussion with Dill, Jem and Scout.

Even though I could write on and on about To Kill a Mockingbird, that book is not the main focus of my post. It is another coming-of-age novel titled Mockingbird that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and wanted to share.



Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird is about a 10-year-old girl named Caitlin who has Asperger's syndrome. Without telling too much of the plot, Caitlin, like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, experiences a loss of innocence. Caitlin's experience, however, is about a terror we face in our society today -- school violence. Caitlin's older brother is killed by another student in a shooting at his middle school. 

There are many similarities between To Kill a Mockingbird and Mockingbird -- the narrators are 10-year-old girls whose mothers have died, a terrible event happens to draw the community together, and the girls are trying to understand why such events happen. Caitlin, a very smart and artisitic girl, searches for emotional "closure" even though she does not understand the emotional meaning of the term. She struggles with looking people in the eye, making friends, and controlling her outbursts when she feels overwhelmed.

I enjoyed this book because I was able to learn how a child/person with Aspergers must feel sometimes -- isolated, misunderstood, unable to make people understand how he/she sees things. If you know a person like Caitlin, I recommend this novel. 

On another note, To Kill a Mockingbird was first published in July 1960. To mark the anniversary, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was released in ebook version. In keeping up with the times, the publishers have allowed more young people to enjoy and learn from this book in a format they are accustomed to. Even though I have read and taught the book many times and own a hardback copy, I still had to download it in digital format.

Also, on July 15, 2014, a new book, The Mockingbird Next Door, will be released. The author, Marja Mills, is a journalist who was allowed into the life/home of the very private Nelle Harper Lee in order to tell the story of the Lee family, of why there was no second novel, of Southern ways, and of how To Kill a Mockingbird affected Lee's life. 


Mills actually lived next door to Nelle and her sister Alice for eighteen months. According to the book’s description on Amazon.com, during that time, “Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their story, Nelle helped make sure she was getting the story—and the South—right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family.


I know I have overloaded you about all things Mockingbird, but as an English teacher and avid reader, it’s my job to spread the word about literature. If you somehow missed out on To Kill a Mockingbird, you really should invest the time to read it. Although the racial prejudice may shock us today, the lessons are timeless. 



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Whatever were they thinking?

I’m not an environmentalist or tree-hugger, and I have a huge carbon footprint. The most I do to keep the environment clean is to recycle paper and plastic at work and at home.  I do, however, notice the effect different constructions have on our earth and wonder if the builders ever even considered the future impact on nature.

My husband and I have a vacation spot in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. These mountains are truly amazing. They seem to go on and on, rolling along one after the other, while a smoke-like fog hangs over them. They are full of evergreen trees, wildflowers, and wildlife. When I’m on these mountains and inside the clouds, I experience a sense of peace, and I wonder at the majesty of this planet on which we live.

The view of the Smokey Mountains from the top of Grandfather Mountain, July 2014


Nestled among the evergreens on these mountains, every now and then you see lovely homes and cabins. Most of them are tastefully built to blend with the surroundings, but some of them catch your eye because of the large size. However, others are definitely a blight on the beautiful, natural landscape. In Avery County, North Carolina, the most atrocious building that you can’t miss is located atop Sugar Mountain -- Sugar Top Condominiums.  Your eyes can’t help but be drawn to this 10-story, white, concrete monstrosity.   

This picture of Sugar Top Condominiums is taken from the top of Grandfather Mountain.


Another picture of Sugar Top Condominiums taken on Grandfather Mountain.
One interesting note is that the condo's website never shows the resort
from this view, only the view from the building. Their pictures of the
building are all close-up photos:  Sugar Top Condominiums


The condo’s website tells the story of its conception, even personifying it as a female like a ship or hurricane. The original plan was to construct a 5-story condo made of wood to blend in with the mountain. After testing the wind speed, however, the contractors decided that this design couldn’t withstand the hurricane-force winds that occur at times on the top of the mountain. So, someone with zero taste came up with this design which caused much unrest in the state. The residents of Avery County protested for months about the construction and design, but couldn’t stop the project: the condos opened in 1983. After that, the NC legislature banned constructing high-rise buildings on mountains. Too little too late.


Today, my family and I visited Grandfather Mountain, a state park that boasts being a mile (5,280 feet) above sea level. As breathtaking as the views were, I couldn’t help but notice Sugar Top Condos and wonder if the residents feel superior because they are above everyone else. I thought about the story in Genesis 11:1-9 about the Tower of Babel. The Babylonians built a huge tower to be close to God and Heaven. Do the Sugar Top residents feel like the Babylonians?


On a similar level (but totally opposite sea level), in my adult life, I lived in Panama City, FL, for 25 years. While growing up, my family and I visited the beaches there every summer. We stayed in the family-run, 2-story hotels or the rental cabins scattered along the beach. The fishing pier was/is a favorite attraction for locals and tourists. On our vacations, we would park at the pier, pay a small fee, and enjoy the walk out on the pier to behold the view of the vast shoreline, sand dunes, and skyline.


The Panama City Beach shoreline at the pier in the 1960s.


Today, that view is totally different. After several hurricanes in the 1960s and 1970s, everything changed. Money-hungry developers, as well as self-promoting bureaucrats, destroyed the serenity of the beach by building high-rise condos, sprawling night clubs, and souvenir shops galore. These, like Sugar Top did to the mountain view, destroyed the beauty of the sugar-sand beach that was rightfully called The Miracle Strip.


This picture is taken from the Panama City Beach pier in 2013. 

In recent years, the well-lit shore has almost destroyed the sea turtle population. The hatchlings, by instinct, swim toward moonlight to find the ocean. Today, however, the blaring lights of the shoreline buildings confuse the turtles, making them crawl inland, resulting in death. It was only when advocates/scientists noticed the decline in the turtle population that laws were made to restrict lights on the beach. Again, too little too late.

As I said, I am not an environmentalist, but I don't have to be one to notice what this thoughtless construction is doing to our planet. Maybe we need to all come together with a similar language/goal like the Babylonians, not to erect a tower to reach Heaven, but instead to keep the beauty that we already have. 

How do we do that? The biggest way is to become more aware of what's going on around us. Question what and why some new shopping center is going up or why a certain new road has to be built. Stop marveling at grandiose construction that can only benefit the wealthy or those getting wealthy by sacrificing our planet. Find out which politicians are "in bed with" big construction and vote against them. In essence, educate ourselves.

Sorry for preaching, but I'm preaching to myself first. I need to hug more trees.



Sunday, July 6, 2014

Those "Not-So-Fun" Projects

Have you ever attempted a project that started out being oh-so-simple and not-so-stressful but turned into the project that seemed to be orchestrated by the devil? 

I have had many of these epic-fail projects. One of my hobbies is sewing, and I can't tell you the number of attempts at making clothing that I simply threw in the trash because I had done something wrong in the process. A couple of these failures were because there was no fabric left to sew the seam since I had ripped the incorrect seam out so many times. Others were because of cutting through the fabric, sewing sleeves in the wrong way, or having a curvy zipper. In my examination of these failures, I found they happened because of  over-confidence, rushing, and not following directions. Although sometimes pattern instructions are not clear, most of the time my brain just doesn't process the instructions correctly. I usually just look at the pictures.

Installing curtain rods or blinds were other project failures for me. I have had to ask God for forgiveness on these occasions because of the nasty words that left my lips. I am fortunate that now I can either pay someone to do this, ask my children or husband to do it, or simply go with bare windows.

This week, the item that has frustrated both me and my husband was a ceiling fan. As usual, we went into this project with the “how-hard-can-it-be” attitude. Richard had installed several in the past, and I had experience assisting other people. Let me say right now that we were working at a disadvantage which is my excuse for failure.

Richard and I are in the process of buying a vacation RV spot in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. On the property is a small, two-room cabin. This cabin is a blank canvas in that it has nothing in it, not even a bathroom. In the larger of the two rooms, we decided to install a ceiling fan with a light. I’m not sure why we thought we needed a ceiling fan because so far this summer, the temperature is very cool. Yesterday when we woke up, it was 45 degrees. There’s also a constant breeze. Richard explained that in today’s houses, we automatically think there has to be a ceiling fan, so he went to Lowe’s in a nearby town (nearby towns in the mountains mean at least 30 minutes one way in the car ) and for around $50, bought a contractor’s grade (another term for cheap) ceiling-hugger ceiling fan.
The ceiling fan which was the focus of our installation failure.

We unpacked everything and read all of the instructions.

Our first disadvantage was not having the proper tools to use in the installation. In Richard’s RV tool bag are the basic tools – screwdrivers, various screws, sockets, pliers, Gorilla tape and super glue, but his well-stocked tool box is at home.  For our project, we needed machine screws and only had wood ones. We had an electric drill, but it wouldn’t work because of the angle of the screws and the fan. We had a two-foot step stool which meant that Richard was one foot short of the fan and I couldn’t even reach it.

Richard's pretty well-equipped tool bag.

The two-foot step ladder which wiggled when I stood on it.

After straining to try to use the short ladder, Richard decided to go back to Lowe’s and buy a taller ladder.
 
Richard standing on the new ladder assisted by Cloee on the short ladder. She is using a broom to keep the fan from rotating while Richard attaches the blades. (Note: Richard is wearing a fleece-lined jacket on July 5. Is a ceiling fan even necessary?)
After we thought we had everything right, we turned the fan on. It worked great for about ten seconds until the blades moved faster and began to lift. When that happened, they started hitting two of the exposed beams. Richard had an idea how to fix it, so the modification began. We added washers and nuts for spacers to make the fan hang lower and used shims to stabilize the fan so it wouldn’t wobble.

As you can imagine, nothing worked. By this time, we had so modified the fan, we couldn't return it. In addition, we broke the light bulb that goes in the light fixture on the fan. It just happens to be a special, one-of-a-kind bulb that will cost a fortune and is probably sold at Lowe’s.

After sleeping on the problem of our fan, Richard finally decided to take the fan down, throw it in the garbage, and buy a non-ceiling-hugger kind. So how much did this fan installation cost? 
  • Original fan -- $50
  • Ladder -- $80 
  • Replacement fan -- $50
  • Gas for trips back and forth to Lowe’s x 3 -- $30.

I wish I could end this by saying that through all of this epic-failure installation, Richard and I became closer and vowed to work calmly together on future projects, anticipating them with a positive outlook.

I can always hope that’s the way everything will turn out; however, like my window blind experiences, I believe we will have to ask God’s forgiveness for the language that He will probably hear.

Keep your fingers crossed.

What projects have gotten the better of you?